Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20):
“What is happening at the border has gone beyond a political issue and has become a moral issue.”
How in the world was this Austin TX-based retired clergy person hearing these words from Congressman Castro, in the midst of dozens of clergy colleagues, in the hall of the First Presbyterian Church in McAllen TX?
My colleague and friend, the Rev. Sarah Howe Miller, had urged me to accompany her on this clergy-populated adventure to the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. She and I had been pained by reports of asylum seekers’ suffering and death along the border of our beloved Texas. We had shared our feelings of powerlessness that we — our country, our elected officials, the church — were not doing something to provide relief. Sarah and I decided to join this border-bound event, organized for clergy by Texas Impact, Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy. We were clergy daring to hope that we could “do something.” What could we possibly do? Still, doing this thing — and doing it together — was better than staying home and doing nothing.
Sarah and I had traveled — from Dallas and Austin, respectively — on a clergy-filled bus to McAllen, TX.
Later that evening, August 29, 2019, we sat among 100 clergy persons from all over Texas — Baptist, Presbyterian, United Methodist, United Church of Christ, Lutheran, Unitarian Universalist, Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Friends (Quaker). All those clergy eyes were fixed on Congressman Castro who had been Skyped in to us on the big screen.
Congressman Castro’s words articulated a particular shift that had brought all these clergy together:
“This [the border crisis] has gone beyond a political issue to a moral issue.”
He encouraged us to see ourselves as “people with institutional power.” A congressman with his own brand of institutional power, he challenged clergy to go to Capitol Hill and “bear witness to the plight” of people seeking asylum.
“Congressman Castro,” one clergy person asked, “what is the most effective way for clergy to engage with Congress in the political process?”
He offered multiple ways:
- See the human faces of we call “the immigration issue” by meeting some of our neighbors who are stuck at the border
- Hear their stories
- Go to Washington in September [a clergy trip to the halls of Congress was already being planned by Texas Impact]
- Push back against the metering policy [a policy that goes against established immigration law that limits the number of people who can seek asylum each day.]
- Speak to politicians about these vulnerable people instead allowing them to be scapegoated as MS13 gang members [Indeed, gangs and cartels prey on asylum seekers.]
(All italicized comments are mine.)
Congressman Castro informed us that Congress is more divided than ever on immigration policy and solutions. Current legislation has a bleak future. That translates to ongoing fear and suffering and a bleak future for those languishing at the border.
“Do something” would take us to Brownsville the next day, and across the border into Matamoros.
“Do something” would bring us face-to-face with the people — our neighbors — that Congress isn’t able to “do something” about.
To be continued . . .